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Our Challenge is to Be Content and Happy

March 8, 2014

“In the modern world with all its change, we forget that there is very little new under the sun. What has mattered throughout the ages is the personal, NOT the political. A great person once said “Our challenge is to be content and happy.” And what is the greatest challenge to our happiness? Crime. And how do we stop the people behind crimes? By turning to a time honoured focus on the personal, that of traditional honour systems…”


This past Tuesday I raced into public speaking try-outs… with no prepared speech (I had had higher priorities) The above is the start of the coherent speech I pieced together in under 5 minutes.

The question is, why did I argue what I did? Because, every single thing stated there I take to be a Thing That Is True. (except for the claim that crime is the greatest threat to our happiness – I believe there are greater threats, but the solution to crime is still one I’d advocate, and much of this articles will proceed along the crime line.) Indeed, I’m echoing Ms. Rose – a person who I take to be extraordinary  – and her comments, for she believed that the relationships in our lives – the personal – was the solution to her proposed challenge. The dying – those with the the benefit of hindsight  and the clarity of the impending cessation of existence – also agree. A study was conducted by a nurse, who recorded the regrets of those dying ( . The article summarised the regrets as:

  1. ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’
  2. ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’
  3. ‘I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. ‘I wish I had let myself be happier’

Now, these regrets can be wrongly taken. I think that you should work hard and intensely… but in shorter bursts as opposed to a dreary low level of work, so that one can free up time for other things, for instance. I also think that words like ‘true to myself’ are a bit nebulous. But… look at no. 4. Look now at it. Read it 3 times. Then read number 2 and 3. These things show, I believe, the importance of the personal.

When we look at the destruction of traditional honour systems and the breakdown of the village community, we see that the impersonal -though not necessarily the political – has been on the march. The breakdown of the tight knit groups society used to rely on occurred because of various factors including the following:

  1. Urbanisation and anonymity
  2. The rise of psychology and an increased focus on the individual
  3. An increase in geographical mobility due to improving technology

Now, there are a whole host of reasons for the decline of specific groups. For instance, the decline of traditional honour groups is a fascinating topic, which I urge you to read about here . Now, the reasons for this decline are not necessarily ‘bad’ things. Urbanisation and the economies of scale that result have risen our standard of living significantly.

But, the decline of these groups has meant that the personal has been whittled away and minimised. And this should be intelligently combated.

I want to make it clear that the state has a very significant role to play in fostering a society where the personal can shine and development can occur. Without the state, our lives would be immeasurably worse. I am not speaking of assembling a neighbourhood watch to catch murderers. That is one place of the state. But, as discussed before, people do not just go out and murder. They begin with dubious actions, rationalise them away, and slowly slide into truly heinous acts. So, if we wish to deter crime, we must punish the initial infractions, the initial wrongdoing. That means the verbal assaults, the graffiti… things that the state can’t efficiently or cost-effectively police. For as the ‘cost’ of crime to society decreases, there becomes less reason to combat the crime – we could use the money to build a new school instead. Besides, we don’t necessarily want a police state where there are enough police to catch some reasonable no. offenders of those committing these initial infractions. In this situation, it must be the community that defines what is acceptable. A man upbraids his neighbour and shames him if he is blocked from putting his garbage bins out. If a person spies somebody vandalising a property they confront the offender and publicly shame him. The community – with eyes many times that of the police – stops the initial infractions, not through legalistic punishment and sentencing, but through playing on emotions like pride, dignity, shame and solidarity.

But enough about crime. Let us talk about leadership for a few moments.

As David Miller discusses in Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, the emphasis on leadership and good governance has changed from the past into the present. In the past the qualities of the leader – being just, benevolent etc. – were seen as being far more important than the institution of government. Today, we focus on institutions. Words like democracy, totalitarianism and such are what we discuss when talking of government, not the personal qualities of leaders. Again, this is no bad change. But, the pendulum should shift back the other way.

I play a role in student leadership at my school, and I can tell you that at times – despite supposedly controlling a structure – that the top-down leadership approach is de-motivating. To regiment activities and force things to occur is often to drain the meaningful nature of an activity into nothingness. But when I was a group leader at leadership camp this past weekend, it was about connecting to individuals, and building the personal bonds… the leaders were talking with their people.

And, it was beautiful. At times it was truly joyous, and the people convivial (of which I may talk about in later posts). It was meaningful, and it felt utterly right.


So I say to you ladies and gentlemen, cultivate relationships, particularly close ones, in your lives. They are an investment worth far more than we realise, and they are critical to answering that perennial challenge of being content and happy. I shall leave you with a poignant quote, to end:

If at the twilight of your life of your life you have one friend who has endured the fickleness of existence and remained in your life then you are blessed. But, for the most part, you walk alone, very much alone.


Take the effort to change where you walk. Stop, and talk to strangers on the road you are travelling.


From → Foundations

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